A remarkably astute historical depiction combined with an engrossing political drama.



In a work of historical fiction set in the first century B.C.E., Mariamne of Maccabee struggles to juggle her marriage to power-hungry Herod the Great with her loyalty to the Judea he wishes to conquer. 

Mariamne waits excitedly to hear her grandfather—Hyrcanus, the governor and high priest of Judea—announce to whom she will be wed. Given the parlous political times, she assumes it will be to another Maccabee to preserve the purity of the dynastic royal line from which she descends. Her world suddenly tilts when Hyrcanus announces that he’s chosen Herod, the governor of Galilee, an old man already married and largely considered a puppet of Rome and, most importantly, not a Maccabee. She protests the planned union, but her grandfather has already made up his mind, thinking the arrangement is the most effective way to secure the eventual ascension of her brother, Aris, now only a boy, to the Judean kingship. Herod unabashedly reveals his intentions to become the king, an admission that not only disgusts Mariamne, but floods her with ambition, not only for Aris, but for herself, an internal conflict sensitively portrayed by debut author Okun: “Queen Mariamne? I rather liked the sound of it. I could be the mother of kings. I could produce the man who wore the crown of Judea.” The author dramatically chronicles her precarious position, which only grows more dangerous as Herod perceives her disdain for him and begins to question her loyalties. Okun’s research is marvelously meticulous. She deftly unravels the complex political entanglements of the time. Moreover, she brings them to vivid life, detailing the frustration of Judeans with the arrogantly dismissive Roman rule. The heart of the tale, however, is Mariamne’s psychological depth. The author resists a hagiographic urge to transform her into a simplistic hero, a decision that ultimately makes her plight all the more deserving of empathy. Okun’s first novel is a rare combination of historical scrupulousness and fictional artistry.

A remarkably astute historical depiction combined with an engrossing political drama.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73398-831-5

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Palace Publishing LLC

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2019

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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